If you were to ask even the most ignorant American to name an important president, Abraham Lincoln would surely be at the top of the list. He freed the slaves and ended the Civil War, for goodness’ sake! Why wouldn’t he be the greatest? I mean, President’s Day is half dedicated to him!
Seth Grahame-Smith recently published a novel called Abraham Lincoln, Zombie Hunter, which is currently being adapted for the silver screen. In this novel, Grahame-Smith retells the life of Lincoln, from birth to assassination, supplemented with “secret diaries” of Lincoln to reveal his central role in a world-wide struggle against vampirism. Though this story is fictional, it isn’t too far from the real life of Abe Lincoln.
Thomas Jefferson once claimed, “A democracy cannot be both ignorant and free.” The control that “Honest Abe” imposed upon the press was nothing short of why Americans nowadays cry out against the governments of China and North Korea. If we are to truly respect and honor our right to speak out against the government, if we are to truly be free, we must look back on our leaders who hindered that right and make sure history does not repeat itself. Man should be free to keep his government in check. Unfortunately, the man regarded as one of the greatest leaders in our nation’s history robbed his people of that right. Vampire hunter? No. Rights slayer? Yes.
During the Civil War, Lincoln was praised for leadership in the North, and the Confederate States’ leader, Jefferson Davis, was praised in the South. This war was between the Union and the Confederate States of America, whom Lincoln considered still part of the Union throughout the war. In this line of thinking, Lincoln had his army fight against itself—a snake eating its own body, if you will.
There was virtually no criticism of either leader in their respective “nations.” This is because both severely censored the press. That’s right, good ol’ Honest Abe was only as honest as he allowed the press to say he was. Though he didn’t hunter vampires, he hunted the press with more efficiency than any vampire hunter could dream of.
Wartime censorship has been used to “protect” national security interests. The words “clear and present danger” are the “yardstick” by which censorship rights of government as opposed to the free-speech rights of individuals are measured in such times of crisis.
President Abraham Lincoln first used this type of censorship during the Civil War. First Amendment freedoms and protections were secondary, according to President Lincoln, to the preservation of the nation. Lincoln believed in “the ends justified the means” argument in preserving all the laws. The Civil War alterations to the protections guaranteed under the First Amendment consisted of opening mail and censoring anti-Union newspapers.
This censorship was epitomized in the penultimate year of the war. By May 1864, Lincoln’s patience with the press ran out. Two New York papers published a fake story reported a presidential proclamation that claimed Lincoln was about to draft 400,000 men. Lincoln ordered the two newspapers shut down and their publishers imprisoned. The Independent Telegraph System, which dispersed the story, was taken over by the military.
Another huge misconception of Lincoln is his all-revered Emancipation Proclamation. This document, considered one of the most important in American history, was, for all intents and purposes, a failure. To start with, this document was published two years before the war ended, and proclaimed the freedom of slaves in the ten states then in rebellion, thus applying to 3.1 million of the 4 million slaves in the U.S. at that time. That would be the same as Mexico coming in during the Civil War and freeing the slaves. As The Confederate States of America established its own government and drafted its own constitution, it was considered its own nation, even if unrecognized by the Union. Therefore, Lincoln had no power to free slaves in the Confederacy. Second, the Proclamation only addressed the South—this left over 900,000 slaves in ownership of their masters throughout the North and West.
The Proclamation also simply freed slaves. By doing so, all Lincoln did was basically declare that slaves are actually humans, not property. It did not address their citizenship status, or what rights they had otherwise. I argue the real significance of the Emancipation Proclamation; it was merely a piece of propaganda that actually freed no slaves.
I question whether Americans truly understand the man to whom they refer to as the greatest president in our history. If we can still glaze over the facts that he fought a war against a nation he didn’t recognize as an independent country, wrote laws that were inconsequential, and tried to destroy the value of the First Amendment, I guess we don’t deserve to be free in our ignorance.